The leader of Grimsby council, Philip Jackson, attributes unemployment in the town in part to “attitudinal issues” and says that some families have not seen work in two or three generations (‘It has hit Grimsby very hard’: health in decline after years of austerity, 5 December).
This is merely regurgitating the same tired Tory talking points that were debunked a decade ago by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), whose researchers – “despite strenuous efforts” – were unable to locate any such families with three generations of worklessness. “Even two generations of complete worklessness in the same family was a very rare phenomenon,” the JRF said, and there was no evidence of a “culture of worklessness” of the sort that Jackson refers to.
Three years later, further research from the foundation acknowledged that the number of households where no one had ever worked had doubled in little more than a decade, but found that most of these were in fact younger single people or lone parents – and again, there was little or no evidence of “intergenerational worklessness”.
These ideas were a myth when elaborated by Iain Duncan Smith to justify welfare reforms that many claimants experienced as punitive and immiserating, and they are no less so today. It’s profoundly depressing to find the same myths – though now disproved, perhaps more accurately characterised as delusions – making a comeback. Without a true diagnosis of the problem, how will an effective solution ever be identified?